(Link to agenda bill – http://mammothlakes.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?meta_id=25162&view=&showpdf=1 and see Police Chief’s report below and
in agenda bill)
In a thick agenda bill document of 67 pages, Assistant Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez has spelled out details of impacts from proposed government cuts. With just a day or so to absorb all of that, citizens faced a tough slog through bureaucratic speak to understand how their lives might change.
Time is short. The Town Council will start to deliberate on approval of the proposed plans at their November 7 meeting. The plan to actually vote on how to change government comes up at their December 5 meeting. After they decide on cuts, officials say they will analyze alternative service delivery models. They will deal with alternatives in meetings called for in December through February with development of alternative models through June.
The agenda bill says the planned changes will create a fiscally stable foundation for town government. The transition looks shaky. Officials admit the plan is far from perfect and leaves government with no financial margin unless additional revenue is created most likely through old and new taxes and TOT.
Although officials say their plan is just a proposal, they talk about it like a done deal. The agenda bill says planned cuts in the police department are delayed because of the employee MOU which guarantees full staffing through June. Many are mystified that the Town hadn’t earlier figured that out.
Thursday night’s agenda bill includes a report from Mammoth Police Chief Dan Watson. The near slice in half of the police department has drawn the most public reaction. The Chief describes gripping consequences.
Police Chief Watson’s report says that by July 1, 2013, there will be between three and seven sworn officer vacancies due to retirements and resignations. Officers started to look for other jobs in the face of an unstable department.
Chief Watson says that the proposed cuts in the police department will mean no field supervision, no school officer, no MONET task force, and sometimes only one officer on duty. Right now there are four policemen scheduled over night when most trouble happens.
The Chief says the use of reserves and volunteers will be “beneficial but not a viable alternative to the elimination of sworn police officers.” Watson has talked to the Mono Sheriff and Bishop Police about hiring their sworn staff on overtime if needed. There is no indication if they can.
The Chief’s report says, “It is my strong opinion that the previous cuts that reduced the sworn strength to 17 have gone too far and any further cuts will create an unreasonable risk to the safety of residents, visitors, and officers. My views,” he writes, “are shared by the author of the POST management audit, the Fire Chief, the District Attorney, the Mono County Sheriff, and both the current and past Bishop Police Chiefs all of whom believe that the Mammoth Lakes Police Department should not eliminate any more positions.” See the Chief’s report on our website.
While all local law enforcement strongly warn of no more cuts, some on the Town Council seem to think it’s okay and at least support the threat of the cuts. Chief Watson goes on to say that it is his “firm opinion” that there can be no fewer than two patrol officers working at any time. The cuts, he said, would require substantial overtime or shifts with no officer on duty.
The Town’s agenda bill also talks about legally using current tax measure dollars which would take money from tourism and housing and possibly put ticket fees on transit. New taxes are laid out – an admissions tax on lift tickets and other charges. A 3% tax would raise about $2 million each year. A special election would be required. General or special taxes could be approved to forestall all cuts and pay MLLA.
Right now, the Town’s agenda bill shows a nearly $500,000 shortfall for this fiscal year which includes a $2.5 million payment to MLLA. Plans include use of technology to reduce costs, cuts in Community Development, consolidation of parks and road maintenance, closure of Whitmore Pool, contracting for IT services, transfer of budget manager duties to Assistant Town Manager, consolidation of the Finance Department with the Community Development Department.
This discussion is scheduled as the third policy item after the consent agenda. The meeting starts at 6pm in Suite Z. Officials say the public can communicate on the issues at meetings, by calling the Town manager or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (Police Chief’s report follows. It is also available online toward the end of the agenda bill.)
TO: Mammoth Lakes Town Council
FROM: Chief of Police
SUBJECT: ANTICIPATED POLICE DEPARTMENT VACANCIES, IMPACTS OF THE ELIMINATION OF SEVEN SWORN POSITIONS FROM THE POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND THE USE OF POLICE RESERVE OFFICERS AND VOLUNTEERS AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO REGULAR OFFICERS
This report will provide an explanation of anticipated sworn vacancies in the Police Department; how the Police Department will be structured if one lieutenant, two sergeants, and five police officer positions are eliminated; and the viability of a Reserve Officer Program and volunteers to offset the loss of sworn positions.
It is estimated that there will be between three and seven sworn vacancies due to retirements and resignations by July 1, 2013.
The proposed reorganization of the Police Department will result in the elimination of all field supervision, the School Resource Officer, the MONET narcotics task force and under best of circumstances, no more than two patrol officers on-duty at any time and, at times, one or no officers on duty.
The use of police reserve officers and volunteers will be beneficial but not a viable alternative to the elimination of sworn police officers.
ANTICIPATED SWORN VACANCIES
Lieutenant John Mair and Officer Jesse Gorham have informed me that they have initiated retirement proceedings to become effective in December, 2012. Several other members of the Police Department have indicated that they have applied elsewhere or are considering an early retirement. I am aware of one that is currently in backgrounds with another local agency, and Bishop Police Department is currently processing applicants.
The decision to retire or resign is personal and it is difficult to accurately predict how many will leave before July 1. I would estimate between three and seven sworn members of the Police Department will leave by July 1. If the Police Department remains at 17 authorized sworn positions until July 1, these vacancies will have to be backfilled by the School Resource Officer (SRO) and overtime. Since hiring an officer on overtime is less expensive than a full time police officer, there will be sufficient salary savings to offset the increased overtime costs. However, as staffing decreases, there may come a point where it will be difficult to fill all the overtime shifts. Preliminary discussions have been made with the Mono County Sheriff’s Department and the Bishop Police Department about the feasibility of hiring their sworn staff on overtime if the need arises.
RESTRUCTURING OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT
The chart below shows the current Police Department structure and staffing. (See this online.)
The lieutenant serves as the second-in-command and is responsible for overseeing the watch commanders, detective, and MONET. One officer is assigned to each of the following: Detective, School Resource Officer (SRO), and MONET narcotics task force. The remaining 12 personnel, including three sergeant watch commanders, are assigned to patrol. The sergeants are part of the minimum staffing requirements and handle calls for service, make arrests, and complete crime reports in addition to supervisory and administrative duties.
The patrol personnel work a 4/10 schedule which provides for a minimum of two officers (including sergeants) to be on-duty at all times except for between the hours of 9 pm and 2 am when there are four officers working. This is the busiest time of the day.
It is my strong opinion that the previous cuts that reduced the sworn strength to 17 have gone too far and any further cuts will create an unreasonable risk to the safety of residents, visitors, and officers. My views are shared by the author of the POST management audit, the Fire Chief, the District Attorney, the Mono County Sheriff, and both the current and past Bishop Police Chiefs all of whom believe that the Mammoth Lakes Police Department should not eliminate any more positions.
If sworn staffing for the Police Department is reduced from 17 to 10, including the elimination of the lieutenant, two of three sergeants, and four police officers, there would remain one chief, one sergeant, and eight police officers. The elimination of 75% of the chief’s management team would result in an unacceptable level of supervision which would expose the Town to unnecessary liability due to a lack of training, supervision, and management oversight.
The administrative burden currently handled by the chief, lieutenant and three sergeants would be split between the chief and one remaining sergeant. This would require moving the sergeant into an administrative position working business hours. The sergeant and police chief would work different hours with one coming in early and the other staying late to provide for more supervisory coverage during the day. There would be no supervision during off hours.
The SRO and MONET task force officers would be reassigned to patrol. This would probably result in the end of the MONET task force. Withdrawing from the task force would result in the loss of approximately $50,000 in grant revenue.
One of the 8 police officers would serve as a detective to conduct follow-up investigations and work with the District Attorney’s Office.
The remaining 7 police officers would be assigned to patrol. By switching to a 3/12 schedule, there would be enough officers, if everyone was working and no one was off due to training, vacation, sick or injury, to have two patrol officers on at all times with the exception of Monday through Wednesday from 7 am until 7 pm. During these hours the detective, sergeant, and police chief would be available to assist the sole patrol officer on any incidents requiring additional police presence.
It is my firm opinion that in Mammoth Lakes you cannot have less than two patrol officers working at any time. This is because of our remote location and that there are usually no other law enforcement officers nearby and many incidents the police handle require at least two officers. These include domestic violence calls, the most dangerous type of police call, felony traffic stops, searches of buildings, and other fairly common incidents.
Since there would only be adequate staffing if all patrol officers were working, a substantial increase in overtime will be required to cover the need to backfill shifts when one or both officers are off for one of the above reasons. If the overtime budget is not sufficiently increased, the most likely alternative would be to have shifts where no officer is on-duty or only one officer working. When that occurs, the officer would not be able to safely handle some types of incidents. This poses a significant risk to public and officer safety and further exposes the Town to additional liability.
The following chart shows the probable organization of the Police Department if sworn strength is reduced to ten. (See online.)
POLICE RESERVES AND VOLUNTEERS
Police Reserve and volunteer programs can be successful in supplementing the work done by police officers. Trained volunteers can be assigned to such duties as staffing the Police Station front counter to assist visitors and callers during business hours. The number of hours the front counter is open could be expanded with qualified volunteers. Volunteers could also be used in the field to conduct vacation checks, impound vehicles for police officers, write handicap parking tickets, and direct traffic. While these activities can relieve some of the burden placed on existing staff, volunteers do not replace the need for POST certified, trained, and equipped police officers.
The Town is in the process of developing the framework for a volunteer program. When that is done, the Police Department will take that framework and recruit volunteers for suitable assignments. Volunteers need training and supervision and with the drastic cuts facing the Police Department, there will not be the staff to oversee the program. A retired sergeant who has expressed interest in volunteering for the Police Department has been queried about being in charge of a volunteer program and if agreeable, will provide the oversight needed. This will include recruitment, background checks, selection, training, scheduling, and supervision.
Reserve officers, like volunteers, can be a valuable asset to a Police Department. Reserve officers receive police academy training and, depending on their level of training and certification, may be able to do everything a regular officer can do. In some cities they are paid an hourly rate and in others they are pure volunteers. They are generally required to work two shifts a month. There are some cities in the state that have a very large reserve corps. They have enough trained reserve officers who work enough shifts to replace the need for additional regular officers. In those communities, the reserve programs have been in place for many years and their reserve officers have substantial experience.
It must be understood that while a robust Reserve program with many reserve officers would be helpful in supplementing the Police Department, the reality is that in the Eastern Sierras it is highly unlikely that there are sufficient numbers of reserve officer candidates to have a meaningful impact on staffing. Simply stated, it is not realistic to expect that a Reserve program will provide enough resources to offset the loss of regular officers.
There are three levels of reserve officer:
- Level 1 reserves have the training and legal authority of a regular officer and can work unsupervised once trained and off probation. They require over 900 hours of Academy training.
- Level 2 reserves officers can work as a second officer in a car under the direct supervision of a regular officer.
- Level 3 reserves cannot do any enforcement work. They can work assignments such as the front counter, direct traffic, complete some crime reports, and write parking citations.
Level 1 and Level 2 reserve officers can be a valuable asset for special events such as Night of Lights and other major festivals and busy weekends when additional officers are required. Level 1 reserve officers can also backfill for regular officers when unavailable thereby reducing the need for overtime. These are the viable and realistic benefits of a Reserve program.
The following explains why a Police reserve program cannot offset the loss of regular officers in Mammoth Lakes.
- A Level 3 Reserve is of limited value, providing little more than what a CERT volunteer can do.
- Cerro Coso College is currently conducting a Level 3 Academy. There are one or two recruits who have expressed interest in MLPD, but they are leaning towards Bishop because they pay their Reserves. The Academy will graduate in November, 2012.
- If there is sufficient interest from perspective students, Cerro Coso may conduct a Level 2 Academy in the summer of 2013. If this occurs, graduation will occur in the late Fall of 2013.
- There are no plans for a Level 1 Academy through Cerro Coso.
- Under the best of circumstances, unless a retired officer volunteers to become a reserve officer, it will be at least one year before a Reserve recruit graduates as a Level 2 Reserve and then their field training will then begin during which time they require constant supervision.
- Reserve Academies typically meet two nights a week and every other weekend for both days for nearly a year. Level 1 Academies require more than 900 hours of training, The nearest Level 1 Academies are several hours away and it is not realistic to expect recruits to travel this distance, this often, to become a volunteer police officer.
- While retired officers are eligible and qualified to become reserve officers, a past recruitment effort resulted in no interest. On October 10, the Police Chief personally recruited a retired officer from Southern California and a retired MLPD sergeant to become Level 1 reserve officers. Both declined, although both agreed to consider working as volunteers.
- A Reserve program requires management, supervision, coordination, and training. With the proposed elimination of 75% of the management team, there will not be anyone to provide an adequate level of management, supervision, and training. In time, once a Reserve program has been in place, a management structure can be created and the reserves can be relatively self-managed.
- Starting a new Reserve program means that any new reserve officers will require extensive amounts of field training to become reasonably proficient.
- There is simply not the population in the area to sustain more than a small number of reserve officers.
- Since reserve officers work a minimum of two shifts a month and a regular officer works 16 shifts a month, it would take eight reserve officers to replace the hours worked by one police officer. It would take 56 reserve officers to replace the hours worked by seven police officers.
- Because Reserve Officers are volunteers, they work when they choose to which is not necessarily when they are most needed.
- It costs approximately $3,000 to outfit a newly hired police officer with uniforms, firearm, leather gear, etc.
To be competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the region, it is recommended that a part-time pay scale be created to compensate reserve officers. According to the Bishop Police Chief, Bishop reserve officers are paid $13.25, $14.25, or $15.25 per hour depending whether they are a Level 3, Level 2, or Level 1 reserve officer. The Inyo County Sheriff’s Department pays $35 per hour for Level 1 reserves.
It is recommended that Mammoth Lakes pay $20, $23, and $25 per hour for each level of reserve officer (3, 2, 1). This will serve as a recruiting tool and will increase the number of reserve officer candidates.
In response to the specific information requested by the Assistant Town Manager, the following is offered:
Realistically speaking, we are not likely to get more than one or two reserve officers this fiscal year. Based on adding two reserves who would start on January 1, the funds needed would be approximately $8400 as shown below:
$6,000 – Outfitting two officers with uniforms and equipment
4,800 – Two officers X two shifts per month X 6 months @ $20/hour
$10,800 – Total
Note: This amount does not cover Workers Comp insurance.
Under best circumstances, if these two reserves attended the Level 2 Academy in 2013 and two additional Level 3 reserves were successfully recruited, the costs, based on the above formula, would be $22,320 for Fiscal Year 2013/14.
It is not possible to accurately predict the results of a recruitment program and the above projections are optimistic.
Since a regular patrol officer works approximately 16 shifts per month and a reserve officer works two shifts per month, it would take eight reserve officers to provide the same amount of coverage as one regular officer and 56 reserves to replace 7 officers. But, this is not realistic since reserve officers work a schedule that is convenient to them and cannot be counted to work solely at the needs of the Police Department.
As previously noted, a Reserve program will not realistically replace eliminated police officer positions, so it is not possible to estimate the number needed. A Level 1 reserve officer is more valuable than a Level 2 who is more valuable than a Level 3. Any trained, experienced Level 1 or Level 2 who is able to work on a busy weekend would be a valuable supplement to the regular officers assigned the same period.
The Police Department is committed to moving forwards towards the development of a Reserve program that benefits the community with the understanding that it will take considerable time and good fortune for a meaningful number of reserve officers to be on board.